Rose Montoya shared her traumatic experience of going through security at the airport. She hopes to spark conversation and inspire change.
All our institutions were built for cisgender folks. To disagree would be to ignore the lived experiences of millions of folks elsewhere on the gender spectrum. To move forward, we must address the oppressions trans folks in particular face in various situations, such as hospitals, schools, and bathrooms. While these are the more common places of violence, trans activist Rose Montoya explains how even going through security at the airport in the United States can be traumatic. In a now-viral TikTok, she discusses her own experiences, even as someone with relatively more privilege than others due to her cis-passing appearance, BuzzFeed reports.
"Can we talk about how horrible it is to travel while being transgender sometimes?" Montoya, an Arizona-based, Hispanic, bisexual, non-binary transgender woman, asks in her video. "I always have immense anxiety leading up to going through security. And this means that I totally recognize the privilege of having all of my documents correct. So, the gender marker on my license, for example, says female. But, going through the scanner, there's a male scanner and a female scanner in the TSA checkpoint. And, looking at me, you know, I look like a woman and I am a woman. So, that's great. I love having systemic privilege when I feel unsafe, which is in an airport. But, going through the scanner, I always have an 'anomaly' between my legs that sets off the alarm. And so [the TSA attendant] asked me if I had anything in my pants and I told her 'no' and she's like, 'Well, maybe it's just like the metal on your shorts, so let's scan you again.'"
The situation then took a turn for the worse. She continued, "So, I was like, 'Look, I'm trans. Just pat me down.' And her solution was, 'Do you want to be scanned as a man instead?' I didn't. But, I ended up doing it and then my boobs set off the scanner because, of course. So, I tried to make a joke out of it. I was like, 'Oh yeah, there's a lot of plastic in there! It's fine.' So then she was like, 'OK, well we have to pat you down. Do you want a man to do it?' I said, 'NO! Absolutely not.'" Montoya says she is privileged to have the necessary documents trans people need when traveling. Despite this, she is still incredibly anxious when traveling.
During this instance, she happened to set off the scanners three times. When she tried to make a joke and laugh it off, no one else laughed with her. "The scanners at TSA checkpoints are made with only two settings, forcing the TSA agents to make a split-second decision on whether to scan travelers as male or female," she shared. "Afterwards, I took a deep breath, grabbed my things, and bought myself a cookie butter latte and a snack. I felt dysphoric and disrespected, but remembered how much worse this experience used to be. I FaceTimed my boyfriend, who listened to my story and calmed me down." This is sadly not new to Montoya. Previously, she had even more trouble as she was earlier on in her transition.
She stated, "Earlier in my transition, I had to experience much worse treatment in airports, from being asked invasive questions about my body, to being inappropriately touched, and sexually assaulted. There needs to be training in all businesses about transgender people. We are real and we have always existed. I am not a second-class citizen. I’m deserving of the same rights and the same respect as cisgender people. The TSA security machines should account for trans and non-binary people. And the agents should understand that misgendering me and outing me as a trans person in public could be potentially dangerous. Trans people are attacked at alarming rates when we are outed—especially Black trans women."
Since the incident first occurred, representatives from TSA Headquarters have reached out to Montoya to set up a meeting for later this week. She hopes that her visibility as a trans woman will help "start a larger conversation that leads to positive change." She affirmed, "My story is one of millions, I’m not alone. I shared it in a clear and concise format on TikTok where I already have a large platform. I’m incredibly thankful for all of the attention it’s gaining."